The first round of the AFL Women’s season was a resounding success.
Between the close contests, higher quality of footy and rapid improvement of a number of players, the negatives were few and far between … unless you’re a Carlton supporter.
Starting on Saturday night, both Geelong and Collingwood received massive ticks for their performances. Without arguably their three best players – Mel Hickey (knee), Richelle Cranston (suspension) and Phoebe McWilliams (hamstring) – Geelong still managed to win, proving quickly they’re a team to be taken seriously.
The Cats were led by number one draft pick Nina Morrison who was everywhere, amassing 22 disposals and looking a class above the rest whenever she had the ball in her hands. It’s hard to know if Geelong should be counted among the top teams, but we will learn the answer to that this weekend when they face the reigning champs the Western Bulldogs. They’ll likely be without their three stars again, however.
As for Collingwood, expectations were low given the talent that walked out the door at the end of last season. This year was always going to be tough task, especially with rising star Chloe Molloy going down injured, but the Pies were competitive and looked dangerous at times.
Losing Sophie Alexander (concussion) early would’ve been frustrating given she looked dangerous, but Collingwood fans should be happy with the effort provided across the board from a tough team lacking top-level talent.
Also on Saturday night, Adelaide controlled the game against the Bulldogs at Norwood Oval.
Their backline restricted the Dogs to few scoring opportunities, while Ebony Marinoff and Erin Phillips looked back to their best – which is pretty darn good.
Unfortunately for Crows fans, they couldn’t convert that dominance into scoreboard pressure, kicking 1.11 for the match. They really should’ve been five goals up at half-time yet ended up suffering a tough loss.
The Bulldogs can breathe a sigh of relief and will move on knowing their experienced players did enough to get them over the line.
Ellie Blackburn, Katie Brennan, Hannah Scott, Lauren Spark, Kirsty Lamb and their other veterans led the way and kept the Dogs in the game when it looked like Adelaide should be pulling away.
Brennan was imposing whenever she went near the ball and for a club that was targeted heavily by the expansion teams, they can take some confidence into next week knowing that upset win puts them in the box seat in Conference A.
Fremantle looked a team reborn on Sunday afternoon. A fresh coaching approach and positional changes gave them scoring power they greatly lacked across the first two seasons.
The decision to move star defender Ebony Antonio forward was a masterstroke and gave the team a focal point they lacked.
Their midfield, meanwhile, is now as good as any. The return of Kiara Bowers after three ACL tears provided a heart-warming story and a reminder of just how good she is.
Alongside Kara Donnellan and Dana Hooker, the Dockers have gone from an afterthought in Conference A to a real threat.
The Demons on the other hand didn’t lose many friends either. They reigned in a 20-point deficit and turned it into a 14-point lead at one stage before falling away again.
Their stars did their jobs. Karen Paxman, Lily Mithen, Elise O’Dea and Lauren Pearce were as good as we expect them to be, but the real excitement came from key forward Eden Zanker.
The 19-year-old Zanker kicked two goals and looks significantly stronger than she did in her debut season. She looks set to provide the Dees a star forward target to complement their midfield.
Subjectively, it appeared the two best teams played against each other in the final game of the round.
Brisbane held off GWS in a tight affair, once again proving one thing – they just know how to win.
There are a dozen men’s AFL clubs who would do anything for the culture of winning and success Craig Starcevich has built in his three seasons at the Lions.
They have stars on every line, which also helps. Up forward, the trio of Jess Wuetschner, Kate McCarthy and Sabrina Frederick-Traub is the most dangerous group in the competition.
It was Wuetschner who did the damage this time, kicking three goals and ultimately being the difference between the two teams.
Their backline once again proved they’re the hardest team to score on with Kate Lutkins, Shannon Campbell and the returning Sam Virgo doing well to hold a dangerous GWS forward line.
Brisbane’s midfield also doesn’t get enough credit. Ally Anderson is a pure ball accumulator, Emma Zielke does damage whenever she gets the footy and it’s possible Emily Bates is the best midfielder in the competition and we just haven’t come to terms with that fact yet.
Their opponents deserve a lot of kudos too.
GWS have added first-round draft star Alyce Parker to an already elite midfield and Christina Bernardi to a forward line featuring Irish duo Cora Staunton and Yvonne Bonner.
They’re as a capable as anyone of winning Conference B and will be tough to beat in New South Wales.
Finally, that brings us to the only game of the round not to feature a photo-finish.
North Melbourne spanked Carlton, and the star players they poached over the off-season all met or exceeded expectations.
Jess Duffin, Emma Kearney, Jasmine Garner, Emma King, Jamie Stanton, Jenna Bruton, Danielle Hardiman, Kate Gillespie-Jones, Kaitlyn Ashmore, Moana Hope and Tahlia Randall all clicked as a unit immediately.
That was the only question over the Roos. The star power was obviously there, but they’re already playing well as a team and that should scare the rest of Conference A.
Of course, that leaves Carlton.
Last year’s wooden spooners looked immediately outclassed by North Melbourne and despite an even first quarter, it was the same issues as 2018 which reared its ugly head.
They were completely dominated in the clearances, which put their backline under immense pressure all game.
Meanwhile, while their midfield was being beaten, their best player in Brianna Davey was still being used as a deep forward.
Despite clearly being their best player around the ball, Carlton has never committed to using her in the midfield and asking 18-year-old star Maddy Prespakis to carry the load is unfair on her.
Blues fans would’ve hoped the new coaching regime would’ve led to different results in 2019 and given we’re only one game in, it’s too early to sound the alarm.
However, that was not the start Carlton would’ve wanted, especially given every other team left Round 1 with a tick next to their names.